What is the dark web?
The case against a Riverside man accused of logging on to the dark web in search of a hitman to kill his stepmother, a San Luis Obispo resident, is now in the jury’s hands.
In closing arguments, prosecutor Michael Frye painted a picture of 33-year-old Beau Brigham as a man who took “calculated” steps to have his stepmother killed.
Brigham is charged with solicitation of murder and has pleaded not guilty.
Frye said Brigham took “direct action” proven through evidence detectives found on Brigham’s phone, computer and statements he made to police that confirm his intent to order a hired killer.
Frye said Brigham downloaded special software to start communicating with a purported assassination site that was really a scam to take his money — and ultimately abandoned the idea after realizing he was being duped.
Online messages detailing the ordered hit were presented in the testimony of a London-based hacker and self-described cybercrime specialist, Chris Monteiro, who said he feared for the woman’s life and alerted the CBS News show “48 Hours,” which then informed SLO County law enforcement officials — though the defense called into question Monteiro’s credibility.
“Bad thoughts are not a crime, but if you progress further and get someone else involved, that’s what makes it solicitation of murder,” Frye said. “Did Beau Brigham intend (for his stepmother) to be killed? Yes.”
Frye pointed to Brigham’s alleged messages on the “Cosa Nostra” website such as “Look, I need this f------ person dead” and that it needed to look like an “extreme, clear accident,” saying information gathered by Monteiro showed Brigham shared his stepmom’s photo, potential addresses for her in SLO, a Social Security number and the type of car she drove.
Defense attorney said key witness not credible
But defense attorney Ilan Funke-Bilu in his closing argument rejected the notion that the online communications could be verified, contending that Monteiro was granted immunity and saying Monteiro’s computer and phone were never reviewed by the prosecution’s investigators to confirm his testimony.
Funke-Bilu called Monteiro a “pedophile” because he admittedly was convicted of having 58 illicit photos of children on his computer in England.
Funke-Bilu called Monteiro a “profound criminal,” arguing the district attorney didn’t search his technological devices because investigators didn’t want to get too closely involved in a case that relied on hacking to get information.
“Who is the real Chris Monteiro?” Funke-Bilu said. “No one can believe a word this man says.”
Funke-Bilu said the prosecution could have offered investigators immunity to review hacked data, however, just like Monteiro.
Funke-Bilu also argued that no evidence showed his client transferred money.
“The subject of money is very important,” Funke-Bilu said. “Follow the money. You follow the money trail and you actually find no money.”
What police found on Brigham’s computer, statements
But Frye argued that the totality of the evidence added up to a solicitation of murder, saying Brigham tried to delete the software used to access the dark web, called a Tor browser, and that he had used an app on his phone related to bitcoin.
Frye also said Brigham’s Mac computer revealed he’d been searching locations associated with his stepmom’s address around the time he gave the dark web site information about her for the planned hit.
Frye argued Brigham’s motive was that he was angry with his stepmother for a variety of reasons, including lost income as part of a trust arrangement from a bar she’d administered after Brigham’s father’s death, as well as feelings of abandonment.
Frye said that calling Monteiro a pedophile went too far, acknowledging Monteiro had a past while contending he’s an credible expert in cybersecurity.
Funke-Bilu said his client was literally “brain dead” and bedridden for five years from an illness, confirmed by defense medical experts, and cited a psychologist’s assessment of his delusion and cries for attention.
Brigham told police he may have logged onto a “stupid” site to get his stepmom’s attention in a rage when they asked him about the alleged hit order. Brigham also allegedly remembered the administrator of the “Cosa Nostra” site sending back an expletive-filled message, which Monteiro showed in a screen shot he captured on the dark web. And Brigham recalled trying to use bitcoin, he told police.
“This is not something he did in a passing rage, something he did in a vegetative state,” Frye said. “Actions speak louder than words. He pushed send (when he made the hit order).”
The trial lasted two-and-a-half weeks.